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Authors: Anthology

Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)

Hotter Than Hell (3 page)

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
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The position of office manager at Bedford Entertainment had been a part-time gig to fill in the corners around bookings but gradually the two jobs had evened out and, currently, office manager was slightly ahead. Unfortunately, it was also about to be made redundant unless they could find an act that actually paid the bills.

“You have an hour open Wednesday at nine,” she announced. “Shall I schedule Mr. Richter for then?”

Glen mouthed an exaggerated, “Burn!” as Ali rolled her eyes. “I’ll shuffle some things around and see him now, Brenda. We don’t want him to have to come back.”

“Alysha.” Arms spread, Michael Richter walked into her office like he owned it. Given that he probably could have bought the building for the cost of his wardrobe and accessories, he had grounds and the shaved head only added to the whole Daddy Warbucks/Lex Luthor vibe. He was entirely unruffled by Brenda’s little one-act play but that was hardly surprising—he had Tom Hartmore to be ruffled for him.

Ali came around her desk and moved into his embrace, skin crawling. Appearances were everything to Mike, and she knew she couldn’t win if she declared war. Enveloped in a cloud of expensive cologne, she touched each cheek gently with her lips, felt his touch in return, and backed away, gesturing toward the more comfortable of the two chairs facing her desk. “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure,”

she purred as he sat.

“Tom here…” A slight nod indicated the man who’d followed him into the room and now stood glaring behind him. “…says we want the same thing.”

“Peace on earth? A little less David Hasselhoff? A really kick-ass pair of black ankle boots?”

“NoMan.”

“Ah.” Neutral expression locked on her face, Ali changed her mind about walking back around the desk and perched on the front edge instead. She crossed her bare legs, dangled one high-heeled sandal, and smiled down at the man who was trying to put her out of business. “It appears we both have excellent taste; but then…” Her smile flicked up to Tom and grew edged. “…I knew that.”

“I’m not here to drag up old conflicts, Alysha.” Mike’s voice had always made her think of that velvet glove over the iron fist. “I’m here to offer you a proposition.” To his credit he smiled when she raised both brows. “You flatter me, my dear.”

He was eleven years older than she was, not nearly enough difference to be so damned patronizing.

“I want you to leave NoMan alone,” he continued. “In return, I will open up a weekend at the Hazard.

You know what that kind of exposure would do for one of your…acts.”

The Hazard was currently the place to be seen, the place to build the kind of buzz that led to major recording deals and Vital had bookings locked down into the next decade. Mike was right; she had people signed who could turn a gig at the Hazard to a solid career, their success becoming the little engine that dragged Bedford Entertainment out of the red. Ali, a firm believer in the bird in the hand over two in the bush—no matter how extreme her reaction to the two birds in question—would have taken him up on the offer except for two things. The first was the disdain in the moment of silence before he said the word, acts.

The second…

“That’s very generous of you, Mike, but I have no desire to become a subsidiary to Vital, living off scraps from your table.” No matter how bad it got, she wouldn’t sell her people out to a man who saw them as inferior product.

He spread his hands, the movement graceful and predetermined as though her response hadn’t been entirely unexpected. “I respect your choice, of course, but perhaps you should take a moment to think about it. My scraps, to beat the metaphor vigorously about the head and shoulders, have more substance than any meal you can provide and I know you hate to see your people starve.”

“No one’s starving.”

“Yet.”

And there, in the single word Tom dropped into her office, was the stick to Mike’s carrot. Ali waved Glen back and realized, almost as an afterthought, that she was standing. Tom looked down at her through narrowed eyes, daring her to react further. To move in closer.

Not going to happen. Except…

One of them had definitely moved, but Ali was sure it hadn’t been her. They were less than an arm’s length away now. She stared at the scar bisecting Tom’s upper lip and remembered the night he’d got it.

The lip in question curled as if he could read her thoughts.

“Play nice, children.”

The amusement in Mike’s voice moved her back until the edge of her desk digging into her thighs stopped her. No way was she providing entertainment by fighting with her ex in front of his boss/lover/who the hell knew.

“I’m sorry you weren’t able to accept my offer, Alysha.” Mike stood as he spoke and gifted her with a benevolent smile. “It would have made everything so much easier.”

“For you.”

“For all concerned,” he admonished, gently. “I can see myself out.” He was at the door before he realized he was alone. He turned in the doorway and the velvet glove slipped. “Tom!”

“Your master’s voice,” Ali murmured. As Tom closed the distance between them, she raised her right hand and laid her palm over his heart, flat against his chest. She could feel the heat of his skin through the black silk shirt. It matched the heat of his breath against her cheek. The heat in his voice.

“You’re going to lose this one, Ali,” he growled, “and I’ll be there to see you go down.”

“You’re going to pay for making Mike wait,” she purred back, her breath moving the dark hair curling over his ear. “And I wish I could be there to see you go down.”

He jerked away from her like he’d been hit, spun on one heel, and followed Mike out the door, slamming it closed behind him.

“Ali?”

Glen’s voice dragged her back to the here and now and she realized her hand was still pressed up against the space Tom’s chest had filled. Slowly, she closed her fingers and let it fall to her side. “That was interesting.”

“I’ll say.” His tone was so totally neutral she knew he wasn’t only referring to Mike’s offer.

“Let it go, Glen.”

His green eyes were worried as he watched her walk around her desk and drop into the chair. “Maybe you should take your own advice. It’s been three years.”

“I know.”

“You and Tom bring out the worst in each other.”

She thought about the scar. “I know.”

Glen stared at her for a moment longer then spread his hands in surrender. “Fine. Why do you think Mike was trying to keep us away from NoMan? It’s not like him to care if we’re after the same band.”

“No, it isn’t.” Usually he enjoyed the competition, secure in the knowledge that nine out of ten times, he’d win. Something about NoMan had made him try and tie up that tenth time. Try to buy her first, because that came with added benefits, and then threaten when she refused to be bought. It was a good thing he didn’t know just how bad their situation was or he’d have merely waited for time to take care of it and not bothered tipping his hand. “He can’t just be working off Tom’s report and the CD. He has to know something about the Noman brothers we don’t.”

“We know almost nothing so that wouldn’t be hard and I’ve tapped out my sources.”

“Then go at it obliquely. You were right when you said it wouldn’t matter who was backing them and, since they can’t be making much money, I’m betting there’s been a bit of a revolving door. Let’s start by finding an ex member of the band.”

Over the next ten days, a hundred small things went wrong. Not one of them could be definitively laid at Mike’s door, not one of them big enough to confront him about, not one of them that would allow her to take any kind of legal recourse.

“It’s like being nibbled to death by ducks while you’re drowning,” Ali muttered, hanging up as Glen came into the office. “An argument over a clause in a contract here, a sudden renovation of a venue there.” She slumped down in her chair. “Do you know what I think? I think Mike has no more idea of how to contact the Noman brothers than we do and he’s trying to distract us. I think that’s why he tried to warn us off—there’s a chance we’ll luck out and find them first.” Glancing up at her partner, she realized he was smiling. “Why are you looking so happy?”

“I found a bass player.”

“When did you lose one?”

“I found a bass player who used to play for NoMan.”

“Oh man, there was all the pussy you could ever want.” Steve, the bass player, took a moment to grin at the memory. “We’d stop playing and the girls would meet us backstage, ready and willing. Boys too if that floats your boat. Me, not so much but Brandon and Travis, man, the two of them together, they could get anyone to do anything you know?”

Actually, Ali had a fairly good idea. She leaned forward, careful to keep her elbows out of the spilled beer. “Was it always the two of them together?”

“Always. When the two of them wanted something, they got it.”

“They couldn’t have always wanted the same thing,” Glen protested.

Steve shrugged. “All I know is what I saw, dude.”

“Was it always sex?” Ali wondered.

“Hell, no.” Steve grinned again, broadly enough this time for a gold tooth to flash in the dim light of the bar. “Sometimes it was pie. But usually it was sex.”

“Suppose they asked for money?”

“Long as they didn’t ask me, man. Shit, I could never keep two bills together.”

“I didn’t mean they asked you,” Ali sighed. “Suppose they asked the people who come to their concerts for money.”

Steve’s smile disappeared. “What part of if the two of them wanted something, they got it are you not understanding? But I never saw them ask for money, they didn’t really give a shit about that kind of thing. They just wanted to sing and drink and have a good time.”

Which made them pretty much the same as every other band that played the bottom of the market except…

“Were you their first bass player?”

“Hell, no. There were…” He stared off into the distance, lips moving as he counted back. “…seven, maybe eight before me. And a couple of them, they lasted twice as long. Me, two years was all I could handle. Just too much of a good thing.”

A raised hand cut off whatever Glen was about to say. Ali had a feeling she knew what that was and didn’t want to argue about it with an audience. “Why did you leave?”

“Leave?”

“The band.”

Steve took a long swallow of beer and frowned down at the amber liquid still in his glass. “Well, there was…and it kinda…you know?”

“Not really,” Ali told him while Glen rolled his eyes.

When Steve looked up, his expression was unreadable. “Sure you do.”

Ali remembered the flash of gold as Travis lowered his glasses. Maybe she did. “Steve, did you ever see anything weird about Travis’s eyes?”

“Nothing wrong with singing and drinking and having a good time but fuck, after a while it’s exhausting.” He took another long drink. “I do studio work now. Got an old lady. Got a life.”

“Eyes,” Ali prodded.

He grinned. “I got two.”

Shaking his head, Glen leaned into his space. “Do you know how we can contact Brandon or Travis Noman?”

“Always Brandon and Travis, dude,” Steve told him. “Never or . And I don’t have a clue.”

“That was ninety minutes we’ll never get back,” Glen snorted dropping into the car and reaching for his seatbelt. “Total waste of time.”

“No, it wasn’t. We learned a couple of things. We learned, based on the number of bass players, that the Noman brothers have been performing for at least twenty-four years—seven before Steve, Steve, and two after him averaging two years a piece with at least two of them hanging in for four—which would have made them three when they started and somehow I doubt that. I’m guessing that’s what cued Mike in that there was something up, something about them he could exploit.”

“He noticed they were lying about their age?”

“He noticed they’ve been around a lot longer than the evidence suggests.”

“Ali, if you looked at the evidence the Rolling Stones should be dead and they’re still performing.”

“Yes, but Mick Jagger doesn’t look twenty-seven. The Noman brothers have a power in their voices…” She could feel her heart speed up just remembering the way they’d held that crowd with their music, the way it lingered even after they stopped playing. “…and Mike wants to use it. The moment he gets them under contract they’ll be singing for more than pie.”

“Ali…”

“You heard what Steve said.”

“He’s got four functioning brain cells—one for each string and nothing extra. Brandon and Travis are good-looking guys with talent and stage presence; they know how to play the crowd. Of course they can get laid.”

“Mike…”

“Mike wants them because he knows he can make money off them. It’s why we want them. It’s as simple as that.”

Travis raised his head and smiled at her over the honey-blond curls of the girl in his arms. Something in that smile said he—they—knew she’d been there all along. Still smiling, he slid his sunglasses forward…

A flash of gold.

“No, it’s not.” She closed a hand over his forearm, willing him to believe her. “You didn’t see what I saw.”

Glen was out of the office, hand-holding a client through a recording session, when the email came.

NoMan was playing at the Atlas on Friday night. Ali was pretty sure she’d have told Glen about it had he been around; he had been the one to bring the band to her attention after all, even if he continued to insist they were nothing more than they seemed.

The denim skirt was so short it barely required all five letters and the heels on her boots made her legs look at least three inches longer. A white shirt so she’d stand out in the dim light of the bar. Noticeable, Ali decided, checking the mirror as she picked up her black leather messenger bag, but practically business casual given the excesses of the music industry.

The Atlas was attached to a downtown hotel that had seen much better days. There was a pool table off in one corner, a heavy, dark wooden bar across one narrow end, and a decent-sized stage across the other. Ali arrived at eight for a nine-thirty start, but the redhead and her boyfriend were already at a table. Pulling a t-shirt from her bag, Ali arranged her face in her best I can do things for you smile and moved in to make her pitch.

BOOK: Hotter Than Hell
4.72Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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